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Government under fire after May Day violence in Paris

The Local, May 2

The government was under pressure on Wednesday to explain how hundreds of anti-capitalist protesters were able to run amok in Paris on Tuesday, torching McDonald's restaurants, cars and bus stops.

The interior minister promised Wednesday to boost security at protests after hooded youths ran amok at May Day demonstrations in Paris, torching cars and a McDonald's restaurant.

Police said 109 people were in custody after the violence, which has sparked criticism in the press that the government was unprepared for 1,200 black-clad troublemakers joining the traditional May 1 protests for workers' rights.

"The authority of the state, reduced to statements of 'strong condemnation', has been tarnished once again," read a column in the right-leaning Figaro newspaper.

Regional daily L'Est Republicain deplored "the sight of these 1,200 thugs dressed in black on the Austerlitz bridge", while the L'Alsace newspaper declared: "Governing means planning ahead."

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb pledged to look again at how to police protests given the rise of far-left "black bloc" protesters who turn up with the intention of attacking police or property.

"For the next demonstrations there will be even more security forces, this time with the intention of totally separating protesters from those who have come to smash things up," Collomb told France 2 television.

But he defended the way police had handled the violence, saying little could be done to stop trouble-makers from infiltrating the crowds.

"We can only detain a certain number of people who turn up like you or I in civilian clothing and then suddenly are dressed in black bloc outfits in the middle of the crowd," he said.

"We cannot keep up, even with 21 police units mobilised against movements which all of a sudden appear on a scale we've never seen before."

Hooded youths had torched a McDonald's restaurant and several vehicles after joining the traditional May 1 union-led demonstration for workers' rights.

Shouting "Rise up, Paris" and "Everyone hates the police", around 1,200 people in black jackets and face masks joined the traditional May 1 union-led demonstration for workers' rights, according to a count by Paris police.

After trying to hold up the march a group of protesters ran amok along the route, destroying a McDonald's restaurant near Austerlitz station, east of the city centre, and setting it ablaze.

They also torched vehicles at a car dealership, along with a mechanical digger and a scooter, leaving a trail of destruction and plumes of dark smoke billowing into the air.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb promised to boost policing at future protests after facing accusations that the government had been caught unaware by 1,200 trouble-makers.

"For the next demonstrations there will be even more security forces, this time with the intention of totally separating protesters from those who have come to smash things up," he told France 2 television.

The worst unrest in months in Paris comes at a time of heightened tensions over Macron's reform of the public sector and follows a showdown between police and anti-capitalist squatters at a sprawling commune in western France.

The police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the demonstrators.

On Tuesday night 102 people remained in custody out of 276 who were arrested, police said, adding: "31 businesses were damaged, of which two were burned, 6 vehicles were burned and 10 others damaged."

Macron condemned the violence, posting on Twitter during his trip to Australia: "Everything will be done so that the perpetrators are identified and held responsible for their actions."

He added the demonstrations would be treated with "absolute firmness".

'Macron makes us mad'

The police had warned of the risk of extremist groups using May Day to set up a rematch of the clashes seen during demonstrations last year over Macron's labour reforms and at an anti-capitalist camp in western France that was demolished by police earlier this month.

"Macron makes us mad," read a banner held by one masked demonstrator.

"We're tired of this capitalist system that destroys everything and of brutal police repression of all those who oppose it," a 19-year-old student who was part of the group told AFP.

The scenes of looting and destruction overshadowed the May Day march, which drew between 20,000 and 55,000 peaceful protesters according to police and union estimates.

Countrywide, around 143,000 people took part in labour marches, according to government estimates, up slightly on 2017.

Trade unions and students' unions have been trying to rally the French against Macron's shake-up of indebted state rail operator SNCF and access to public universities, which they see as part of a rollback of France's cherished public service.

Polls show the French supporting those reforms but being more critical of Macron's fiscal policy, seen as favouring the wealthy over the working and middle classes.

"Macron is the president of the rich," Genevieve Durand, a retired public servant who took part in a march in the central city of Clermont-Ferrand, told AFP, echoing a label that has clung to the centrist leader.

The energetic 40-year-old, who vowed during campaigning to make France more competitive, has insisted he will not budge from his course.

"I'm doing what I said I would," he said during a recent television interview to mark the first anniversary of his election on May 7.

 

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